THE DOPE: The Illini have a capable starting team and may fight their way back into the Big Ten first division. Coach Ray Eliot has his best line since 1953, but an apparent halfback weakness could spoil his chances for anything higher than fourth or fifth place. Among Eliot's 22 returning lettermen are three experienced guards—Dave Ash, Bill Burrell and Bob Allen; and three veteran tackles—Carl Johnson, Don Yeazel and Ron Nietupski. Center, a problem in '57, will be manned by Gene Cherney, a fair linebacker. Rich Kreitling, Illinois' leading receiver, is still a big if with his rib injury. He and Ron Hill are the only proven flankers. Eliot's usually explosive running game may suffer for Halfbacks Marshall Starks and L. T. Banner lack the necessary breakaway speed. Veteran Tom Haller has turned to pro baseball, so the quarterback job will probably fall to slow but resourceful Bill Offenbecher or Bob Hickey, a good passer. Captain Jack Delveaux in the shadow of Ray Nitschke, Illini's top ground-gainer and scorer, could blossom into a star fullback.
COLORS: Cream and crimson
BASIC OFFENSE: Single wing
1957 RECORD: Won 1, lost 8
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 18 of 29
WATCH FOR: The tackling, pass defending of Tony Aloisio
THE DOPE: The Hoosiers are itching mightily to climb out of ninth place in the Big Ten, and this could be the year now that Coach Phil Dickens has finally assumed his portfolio. Dickens arrived in Bloomington fresh from an unbeaten 1956 season at Wyoming and was forthwith put in cold storage for a year for illegal recruiting. His line coach and understudy, Bob Hicks, suffered through a disastrous 1957 campaign in which the Hoosiers ranked last in the conference both offensively and defensively. Now the reinstated Dickens inherits a green squad (52 of 83 men are sophs) and is changing his system from a side-saddle T (a variation of the single wing permitting certain phases of T and split-T) to a straight single wing. Dickens is placing the burden of the passing and running on Tailback Tom Kendrick and Fullback Vic Jones. Wil Scott is at wingback, and Eddie Fritz, the blocking back, will call offensive signals. Tony Aloisio, MVP as an end last year, will switch to center. The Hoosiers are expected to improve, but it will take time for a contender.
Iowa City, Iowa
COLORS: Gold and black
BASIC OFFENSE: Split-T
1957 RECORD: Won 7, lost 1, tied 1
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 17 of 35
WATCH FOR: Passing of Randy Duncan, running of John Nocera
THE DOPE: The Hawkeyes were well on their way to their second straight Big Ten crown until the final three minutes and 54 seconds of the Ohio State game last year. Coach Forest Evashevski's 1958 squad could be even more threatening offensively than last year's edition, but his defense will suffer from the loss of five starting linemen, including two All-Americas—Tackle Alex Karras and End Jim Gibbons. The latter led the Big Ten in pass catching with 26 for 276 yards (36 for 587 over-all). Experienced reserves will, for the most part, man the vacant line posts. However, Iowa's regular center, 6-foot-6, 280-pound Mac Lewis, will shift to tackle. Evashevski lost Halfbacks Mike Hagler and Bill Happel, his two top rushers, but he still has the conference's total offense leader in Quarterback Randy Duncan and his regular fullback, Captain John Nocera. Duncan completed 70 of 119 passes for 1,124 yards and 10 touchdowns. Although Gibbons is gone, Duncan will be tossing even more this season, because the line may hamper Iowa's running attack.
COLORS: Cardinal and gold
BASIC OFFENSE: Single wing
1957 RECORD: Won 4, lost 5, tied 1
LETTERMEN RETURNING: 18 of 30
WATCH FOR: The land, air assaults of Tailback Dwight Nichols
THE DOPE: The Cyclones have a new coach and enough material to crash the Big Eight first division. With Jim Myers gone to Texas A&M after just one year at Ames, another Tennessee alumnus, Clay Stapleton, will guide the Cyclones through their second year of single-wing competition. The former Oregon State assistant inherits star Tailback Dwight Nichols, the top passer in the conference and the nation's No. 3 total offense leader. This 24-year-old junior was the busiest back in the country last year, with 211 scrimmage rushes and 99 passes for 310 plays. His 1,419-yard total was just 25 short of the top. Chuck Lamson, Pete Goeser and Bob Harden will keep Nichols company in the light but speedy backfield. End Gale Gibson and Tackle Andris Pontius are key men on the line. Stapleton's chief problems are a lack of experience and depth. His first four tackles, for example, are ex-fullbacks. The first two teams are loaded with nine sophomores. The Cyclones expect to blow up a small storm in the Big Eight but not enough to scare the likes of Oklahoma and Colorado.